- My Mother and Lucille Clifton Have Tea Parneshia Jones When I get to where I’m going
I want the death of my children explained to me.
They meet over tea and potato chips.
Brown and buttermilk women,
hipped and hardened,
legs uncrossed but proper
still in their smiles;
smiles that carry a sadness in faint creases.
A sadness they will never be without.
One asks the other,
“What do they call a woman who has lost a child?”
The other sighs between sips of lukewarm tea.
There is no name for us.
“No name? But there has to be a name for us.
We must have something to call ourselves.”
Surely, history by now and all the women
who carry their babies’ ghosts on their backs,
mothers who wake up screaming,
women wide awake in their nightmares,
mothers still expected to be mothers and human,
women who stand under hot showers weeping,
mothers who wish they could drown standing up,
women who can still smell them—hear them,
the scent and symphony of their children,
deep down in the good earth.
“Surely, history has not forgotten to name us?”
No woman wants to bear
whatever could be the name for this grief.
Even if she must bear the grief for all her days,
it would be far too painful to be called by that name.
“I’ve lost two, you know.”
“I was angry at God, you know.”
“I stopped praying but only for a little while,
and then I had no choice. I had to pray again.
I had to call out to something that was no longer there.
I had to believe God knew where it was.”
“I fear death no longer. It has taken everything.
But should I be? Should I be afraid of what death has taken?
That it took and left no name?”
The other who sighs between sips of lukewarm tea
leans over and kisses the cheek of the one still with questions.
No, you don’t have to be afraid.
Death is no more scary than the lives we have lived
without our babies, bound to this grief
with no name. Copyright © 2019 Parneshia Jones.
I am sharing this poem as a mother. I taught my daughter to be independent, to not allow anyone to touch her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, to tell someone if a conversation makes her uncomfortable. I taught her how to use public transport, to go to school and other places on her bicycle, I taught her how to drive. She used to ride her bike with friends to a jetty and spent summer days jumping into the sea, they rode bikes in woods, they did water sports. My daughter did two Duke of Edinburgh Awards and excelled in them.
I knew I was teaching her to live with danger, and did my utmost to equip her for danger. My worst fear is to be told of her death, or serious injury. The is no name for a parent whose child has died.
I once wrote a poem about the non existent rooms in a courthouse. There are Ladies and Mens Rooms but no room named Raped, Husband Murdered, Child Killed, and other descriptions of unspeakable pain.